Encourage faith

1 Thess1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

When Paul made his way to Thessalonica, he brought with him the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Most had not heard the gospel; it was the first time such a man as Paul came with this amazing message. As he taught, some might have thought him crazy to believe so earnestly a story of saving grace which comes through a man once crucified, dead, but alive again. Just the opposite was the case. A number of people in Thessalonica were gripped by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in their hearing the gospel they came to great faith. In this introductory passage to his first letter, Paul gives thanks and praise for their faith and early enthusiasm. But Paul did not write this letter to puff them up. No, he wrote it to encourage them as they faced challenges, doubts and fears.

Christians today certainly face doubts and fears. Like the first Christians at Thessalonica, the church today benefits from the encouragement of other faithful disciples. Left on their own, the faithful soon become distant and inactive in matters of worship, fellowship and Christian living. The world offers so many alternatives to living a life patterned after the example of Jesus. At every turn, the powers that defy God lay in wait to snatch the believer from the community of faith, that they would set their minds on earthly things rather than seeking God’s kingdom.

Many today take a look at the church and think Christians are as crazy as Paul to believe such a story. To a world fallen into sin, the gospel simply doesn’t make sense. Yet, through the sharing of the gospel message, the Holy Spirit continues to bring people to faith. The church certainly faces issues of complacency; many are not as active as we ought to be.  And so we lift up one another in prayer.  The Holy Spirit strengthens God’s people through their hearing the gospel. The epistles of Paul, along with the other biblical authors continue to encourage Christians throughout the world. And finally, the powerful witness of the saints and the lives of all who have gone before us in faith, continue to serve as examples for the church to follow.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your people and kindle within us the fire of your love, that we too may share the good news of Christ. Amen.

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He is risen

empty tomb of JesusMark 16:1-8

Many of the earliest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end at verse eight. It is an abrupt ending, one that leaves people hanging as they read it. It seems incomplete, unfinished. It seems in our reading of Mark, moving from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is like trying to move from one universe into another new, unimagined one. There are no compass bearings. There is no road map telling us how to get there.

The rule is, when your heart stops beating and you quit breathing, you die. We can understand this, but God’s raising of Jesus from the dead changes all of the rules. It changes the rules of the world, of life and death. Everything is changed. Suddenly we are redeemed from sin and death. All at once there is forgiveness and new life in God’s kingdom. We are no longer the same. Resurrection is a radicle abrupt change from death to life.

Because of Christ’s resurrection we cannot possibly remain the same. We cannot live in the same way, or keep the old priorities. Resurrection confronts us with our past history of hurt and failure, of our damage and the damage we have inflicted on others. Resurrection throws it all away, but how can we deal with it? It’s not natural. How can we find the courage and the will to leave the shadows of our former life behind, and move into the light of Christ? The ending of Mark’s gospel doesn’t give us a clear cut answer as the other three gospel accounts do. Mark’s ending is abrupt; it leaves us wanting more of the story, but the rest of the story is there. The clue lies not in the ending, but the beginning of the gospel.

In the first chapter, Marks initial words to the church are “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Reading the story through the lens of this opening verse, we are brought to the threshold of the empty tomb. Jesus is the one who was crucified, yet he lives. The resurrection is our opportunity to throw off the old worn out garments of worldly life that rob us of hope for life in the face of death. The gospel telling of Jesus’ resurrection means God’s people have a new beginning. We can leave the damage done by sin in the empty tomb of our old lives, leave them behind like the rolled up grave clothes that they are, and to step forward with the assurance of God’s mercy and grace. This is good news indeed.

Risen Lord, you are the way, the truth and the life. Amen.

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The Son of God

Son of God Mark 15_39Mark 15:21-39

Jesus let out a loud cry. After speaking words of forsakenness from Psalm 22, Jesus cried out and took in his last breath. With the exhale came his cry, a cry of relief, an exclamation of deliverance. Finally, after hours of endless pain and gasping torment, it is over at last. The suffering is ended. The ordeal is finished and nothing remains but the absence of all sensation. Yet, having been abandoned by his disciples and left to face the ultimate humiliation and shame, Jesus cried out loudly. Why would he muster the last ounce of energy he had to cry out with a loud voice? Surely God could hear his thoughts. Unless God wasn’t the only one intended to hear.

We can’t forget that it is our sin that brought Jesus to the cross; it is the weight of humanity’s brokenness that hangs on his shoulders. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians; “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21

It’s not enough to say Jesus took our sons to the cross, in order to save humanity from our own disobedience, Paul asserts that God made Jesus to be sin. Jesus was there in our place, for our sake, forsaken by his Father. There on the tree of the cross, Jesus faced the ultimate temptation. “Save yourself!” “Come down from the cross!” No, our Lord and Savior remained faithful and completed the work of salvation; the mission God sent him to earth to accomplish. There on the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, saved God’s people.

And in the end, certain of the resurrection, Jesus commended his spirit to the one who is author of all life. Even at the point of his own abandonment, when the Father seemed so very far away Jesus remained obedient to the Father’s will. A faith so strong no darkness, no pain, no sin not even death could overcome it.

Father, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, forgive us. Amen.

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Innocence found guilty

Mark 15_1 PrisonMark 15:1-20

Several times in the last month or so, there have been stories in the news detailing how some wrongly accused men had been imprisoned for years. Each of these men were finally found to be innocent of the crimes and set free. Our judicial system is far from flawless, sometimes the innocent are charged and sentenced. Other times, the guilty go free.

The chief priests charged Jesus of blasphemy. They cast a net filled with deceptive accusations and false witnesses in order to arrest Jesus and set their plan in motion to have him killed. The trial Jesus endured at the house of the High Priest was anything but fair. Then, having been turned over to Pilate, Jesus’ fate wrested in the hands of the Roman Empire. Pilate had no reason to find Jesus guilty. He also felt no obligation to set him free. The only requirement in Pilate’s estimation was to show Rome’s dominance and control. If it meant killing one more Jewish citizen, then so be it.

Jesus, of course, was innocent. He had committed no crime, was not guilty of any sin and remained truly obedient to the will of God. The only reason Jesus went to trial and received the sentence of death is due to humanity’s disobedience.  Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, humans have trampled over the boundaries God set to guide his people. Withstanding all this, Jesus remained silent before his accusers.

It’s true; Pilate felt no sense of obligation to free Jesus. The judicial system employed by Rome was certainly one sided. Anyone who even came close to stepping out of line became an example of what the Roman government would do to those who stepped out out of line. But Jesus, whom God sent into the world to save people from their sins, willingly took upon himself the guilty verdict for humanity’s short fall.

Yes it is true, sometimes our judicial system fails. There are instances when the innocent are charged and sentenced, just as there are instances when guilty men slip through the cracks and go free. Yet, all are sinners. Jesus endured mock trials, beatings and ultimate humiliation and ridicule for the sake of all people. For truly, only one has ever been innocent of sin and obedient to all God commands. And for this, he was crucified.

Lord Jesus Christ, you took upon yourself our sin, paid our price and saved us from ultimate death. We thank you for your grace. Amen.

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Betrayed – arrested – abandoned – denied

Before the rooster crowsMark 14:26 – 72

It isn’t enough to say Jesus was betrayed; such language does not convey the gravity of Judas Iscariot’s actions. From the beginning, Jesus knew Judas was the one who would give him up. Still, Jesus taught him the ways of God; he modeled for him the way of humility. Judas heard Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor; he watched as Jesus had compassion on the sick, poor and hungry. How could he not see that this is indeed the Christ of God? No, it isn’t enough to say Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas felt the nudge of Satan, was tempted by power and greed, and then succumbed to the powers that defy God, betraying his Lord with a kiss.

The mob assembled and headed out to the garden where they would find Jesus. Many had seen him teaching in the temple; they knew he was a man of peace, a teacher with authority. Such a man would be easy prey for temple guards to over power and take into custody. So why the mob; why wait until the dead of night? Trumped up charges, false witnesses; that was their plan. And so the mob came to get Jesus, enough man power to ensure their scheme would not fail. The Chief priests, Pharisees and scribes would get their man.

Even as they shared the Passover meal, the disciples pledged their unwavering support for their teacher. Amid Jesus’ assertions that he would be arrested and the twelve would flee, the disciples were adamant. Beginning with Peter, each one promised to follow Jesus, staying close even if it meant they might be killed. Nothing would deter them from keeping their promise. No one would come between them and their Lord. No one except, and angry mob sent from the temple with orders to take Jesus as their only prisoner. When the mob appeared, the disciples fled. Not a single one kept his vow.

Along the shore of Galilee, Jesus saw two fishermen and called them to follow him. One of these men was Simon, who Jesus called Peter. Simon Peter, followed Jesus through the wilderness. He went with him into Gentile territory. Peter was there at every significant moment; he even followed Jesus walking on water. But just when Jesus needed him most, Peter fled with the others. Why then did he venture into the courtyard? Why did he follow at a distance? There, he was spotted and identified as a follower. It was Peter’s opportunity to prove once and for all that he would follow Jesus no matter the consequence. But when moment came, as the waves of fear broke over him as they did when he walked on the water, Peter began to sink. He denied ever knowing Jesus. Suddenly, the cock crowed, and Peter went away weeping bitterly. Once again, Jesus was right.

Lord Jesus, strengthen us in faith and love; enable us to follow you. Amen.

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